Roger Ailes does not fear death. He's prepared for it all his life, because of his hemophilia, and he knows when it's coming, because he's checked the actuarial tables, and he is confident that God is a conservative. Ailes reportedly cooperated with biographer Zev Chafets, whose take on the Fox News chief's metaphysical musings is at the center of a book excerpt in the new issue of Vanity Fair (online today), to counter a forthcoming, and probably critical, biography with a nice one. Mission Accomplished!
Chafets's book, Roger Ailes: Off Camera, portrays Ailes as "a blue-collar guy from a factory town in Ohio who has stayed close to his roots," who is not to be messed with. "If you have a reputation as a badass, you don't need to fight," Ailes says in the excerpt. Despite that, there are plenty of entertaining things in Chafets's story, especially when Ailes plays insult comic. That appears to be the point — when Ailes is in charge, the Ailes biography is about everyone else's fatal human flaws. Here are some of his best zingers:
When then-Sen. Barack Obama complained that Sean Hannity was biased against him in a 2008 meeting:
- "Nobody who watches Sean's going to vote for you anyway."
On Obama's skills as a liar:
- "He said this looking me right in the eyes... He never dropped his gaze, which is the usual tell. It was as good a lie as anyone ever told me." (In the same 2008 meeting, Ailes complained that Obama wanted to unilaterally spike some weapons systems, and Obama denied it. Ailes told Obama that he'd seen the candidate promising to do it.)
On the name MSNBC:
- "M.S. is a damn disease."
On the name of NBC anchor Soledad O'Brien:
- "Named after a prison."
On Joe Biden:
- "I like him. But he's dumb as an ashtray."
On Newt Gingrich:
- "He's a sore loser and if he had won he would have been a sore winner... Newt's a prick." (Ailes was rejecting Gingrich's complaints that Fox News favored Mitt Romney in its election coverage.)
On his relationship with Rupert Murdoch:
- "Does Rupert like me? I think so, but it doesn't matter. When I go up to the magic room in the sky every three months, if my numbers are right, I get to live. If not, I’m killed. Our relationship isn't about love—it's about arithmetic."
Then there's lots of other stuff that makes Ailes look like a stoic hero. Such as: "Because of my hemophilia, I've been prepared to face death all of my life.... I'm ready. Everybody fears the unknown. But I have a strong feeling there’s something bigger than us. I don't think all this exists because some rocks happened to collide. I'm at peace. When it comes, I'll be fine, calm. I'll miss life, though. Especially my family."
Politico's Dylan Byers reports that Ailes's cooperation with Chafets's book this month was an attempt to control his legacy, especially with a competing biography from Gabriel Sherman, who has written several times about Ailes in a less than positive light, coming out in May. Chafetz is the author of a flattering New York Times profile of Rush Limbaugh and later a biography of the radio host. "For the Ailes book, the Fox chief granted Chafets multiple interviews and even helped to arrange interviews with his friends, family and colleagues, sources said," Byers says. "[T]he news that Ailes was cooperating with Chafets nevertheless sent a signal to many in New York City’s media circles that the Fox chief feared Sherman's book." Byers writes:
“This was emotional Roger Ailes, not strategic Roger Ailes,” said one source who has dealt with both Sherman and Chafets. “Not a lot of people read these books. He’s spending way too much time focusing on something he could completely ignore.”
Fox News executive vice-president Brian Lewis, in a statement to TV Newser, said that was a misreading of the story. Yet he couldn't help but take a shot at Sherman in his denial that Ailes cares about Sherman's biography. "Roger is not in a 'war' with anyone and has stated several times that he is not overly concerned with his legacy," Lewis said. Byers' "reliance on unnamed sources mirrors the technique that Gabe Sherman has used throughout this process to craft a narrative that simply isn't true."